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Braised Lamb Fenugreek Ricotta Gnocchi, Cauliflower at the Nomad restaurant in vancouver January 21, 2015.

John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail

1.5 out of 4 stars

3950 Main St., Vancouver
small plates, $6 to $16; large plates, $23 to $25
West Coast
Rating System
Additional Info
Open Sat. to Sun., 3 p.m. to midnight; Mon. to Fri. 5 p.m. to midnight. Reservations available.

The thing about nomads is that they can't always be relied upon. With all that roving around, you never know where they are or what they're up to unless you're part of the tribe.

That's how Nomad made me feel – like an outsider peering in. Tolerated, but not welcomed. Accommodated, but never comforted. What is most puzzling is that my experience was so far removed from the mission statement plastered across the front page of the restaurant's website: "No presumptions. No pretensions. Ask questions. Feel comfortable." I'm still scratching my head and wondering if the owners have even read it.

In a pattern similar to traditional hunters and gatherers, Nomad follows the seasons in a well-defined territory, sticking to the bounty of British Columbia as much as possible. "At Nomad, we strive to follow the same constructs by creating and nurturing relationships with our region's farmers and suppliers."

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It's a nice sentiment, but they might want to try nurturing better relationships with their customers. My friend called to make a reservation and left a message. With the dining hour fast approaching and no word from the restaurant, he called back to confirm. "Oh yeah, sometimes they scribble the messages down on small pieces of paper and they get lost," is what he was told.

We needn't have worried. On a Thursday night, the restaurant was practically empty. It's an interesting industrial loft space with the kitchen on the upper level. Appointed in concrete and pine-beetle-ravaged wood, the room is cool, austere and dark. I suppose the owners are trying to bring a downtown nightclub vibe to this residential neighbourhood at Main and 23rd. And I hate to sound like an old crank, but the lights are so dim I could barely read the menu. (And I don't even need reading glasses.) On busy nights, the tall ceilings, hard surfaces and loud music make conversation difficult. The design, so indifferent to customer comfort, smacks of youthful arrogance.

The restaurant, opened in early November, is run by four young chaps who seem to possess an abundance of talent, according to the bios on their website. I can't really say much about them since I didn't meet any of them. They were there, but they never came to the table.

"Our chefs know the origin and content of every dish we serve in order to provide peace of mind to our guests." Perhaps. But one was too busy sitting at another table drinking with friends to bother explaining anything to us. An Australian waiter served me on both visits. He was sweet and endearing, but obviously still learning. When describing the specials, he kept stumbling over his written notes. More than once, he referred to the sweetbreads as "shortbread."

The veal sweetbreads, presented in a circular wreath on the plate with roasted potatoes, cauliflower and wilted kale, were a bit chewy and bland. Not as bland, mind you, as the calamari, also served in a circular wreath, with chickpeas and arugula. I believe the calamari was actually Humboldt squid, which is naturally thick and spongy. We asked, but never received an answer. I didn't mind the texture, but my friend from Toronto, a very successful restaurateur, despised it. We both had trouble with the char marks, which tasted like gas.

The daily sausage, made in house, was pepper-crusted pork. Again, the chunks were served in a circular wreath. But at least this time our palates were piqued by spicy romesco sauce and roasted onions.

Hanger steak had commendable textural components – crispy sear, parsnip chips and a thickly reduced jus. But the experimental textures on the chocolate s'more dessert – rock-hard graham crust, gummy meringue and a mealy, crumbly, stale mint "Aero" bar – made the dish inedible.

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I appreciate the all-B.C. wine list. And the cocktails are lovingly crafted using house-infused spirits and house-made syrups. The femme fatale with lavender vodka, essence of rose and sparkling wine was delightfully refreshing.

But over all, the second dinner was an incredible disappointment, especially because the food had impressed me on my first visit. That night, the sunchoke and wild mushroom soup was deep and earthy, flecked with tarragon and brightened with colourful drops of lively beet essence. Razor clams, a local product, yet seldom found in Vancouver, were perfectly succulent, the delicate meat protected from overcooking in a thick panko crust. Complemented by garlicky hummus, herb pesto and thinly sliced heirloom carrots, it was a lovely dish (and the only one presented that night in a circular wreath). Braised lamb was fork-tender, served with creamy ricotta gnocchi and golden cauliflower. On its own, the dish would have been quite heavy. But it hit all the right notes when served side by side with poached eggs oozing over wilted kale in a hearty winter salad coddled with sour buttermilk dressing on a bed of smoked goat cheese.

We were lucky that night. We ordered well. Not so much the next time. And that's the problem with nomads. There's little consistency.

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